Bridgerton: A Discussion, Part III
This week we discuss Bridgerton in five posts. You can find the first two here:
Part I is centered on the show’s worldbuilding and production values, on its treatment of race, and on Lady Whistledown.
Part II focuses on the show’s matriarchs–the queen, Lady Violet, Lady Danbury, and Lady Featherington.
And now for today’s discussion:
Simon and Daphne (Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor): Part A—the courtship
Janine: In many ways Simon and Daphne’s courtship played out similarly to a lot of romance novels. It’s tropey—we have the heroine needing to choose among her suitors, the hero who spies her in the garden being harassed, the instant sparks-flying dislike that turn to greater and greater attraction, the fake dating, a duel the heroine rushes to prevent, the scandal that leads to hasty marriage.
Most of this was well-executed. Page and Dynevor have good chemistry and I really liked the fake dating (not usually a favorite trope for me). Page was so charming in that section of the show. It was interesting, too, how they kept secrets from each other—each wanted the other but felt they couldn’t have the other person (Daphne because she didn’t think Simon wanted her, Simon because he knew Daphne would want kids). The actors did a good job here.
The narrative centers on Daphne more than on Simon. The focus is on whether she will win him, whether she will lose him, then whether she can win him back. It’s never about whether he will win her, lose her, or win her back. He is the object to be won or lost; she is the epicenter of the show. This is true of a lot of romances and it works here, up to a point. But as the show proceeded, I liked Daphne less and less, and I think that this was part of why.
I roped my husband into watching the show with me and he said Phoebe Dynevor is better at playing unhappiness than joy. Dynevor is very good at minute changes in expression that convey a lot. There is a delicateness to Daphne. Her choices, such as the focus on marrying well, are in line with a traditional ideal of femininity. However by the end my impression of her was that she was a spoiled and overprivileged girl. I’ll get into that in the other half of our Simon and Daphne discussion, which runs tomorrow.
As for Simon–I could look at Regé-Jean Page all day, and not just because he’s gorgeous. As an actor he can go from fun to angry to hurt. I noticed he acted with his eyes a lot. He could light up the room by crinkling them. He was the one who brought the charm and sparkle to Daphne and Simon’s courtship. Dynevor is a good actress in many ways but she didn’t have that kind of delightfulness.
Page made Simon likable even when he was determined not to marry Daphne. I thought the way he dealt with Daphne in their courtship and their marriage was more than fair. In fact, I’d say his innate sense of fairness was possibly his most appealing characteristic for me. He was the essence of a kind and honorable man.
However, I never totally bought his backstory. Simon’s father was relentlessly cruel but it seemed like refraining from having children with the woman he loved was an unconvincing overreaction, particularly since he loved kids. His father was in the grave and there was nothing to hold Simon to his vow. Even if we set aside the historical reasons why dukes were expected to reproduce, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Regé-Jean Page and Adjoa Andoh did their best to sell the way his father’s past actions impacted Simon in the present; this was a flaw in the writing, not in the acting.
Layla: You’ve made so many good points about how conventional the love story is in this section of the story. Daphne was an interesting and complex character, and I think it is difficult to think of her as relatable—after all she is the Queen Bee (without the meanness) but there is a smug acceptance of her popularity and her position as a “Flawless Diamond” that I disliked.
She’s like Regina George from Mean Girls but less pretty and more dutiful. She is an exquisite doll—beautifully dressed and coiffed and always so elegant and pretty but ornamental without depth. At least that’s how she starts out—I agree that the actress who is playing her has a limited range. She has a youthful delicacy married to a willful strength of purpose that did work, however.
I understood why she longed for Simon but I never understood why Simon longed for her—outside of her innocence, her delicate prettiness, and her family, what did she offer? I don’t think that someone beautiful and conventional necessarily has to be lacking depth or be boring as a character—I think for example, showing her with her family more, or showing her having a deep friendship, or a cause, or any kind of intellectual interest would have made her a thousand times more interesting to me.
Marina, who is beautiful and unconventional, by contrast, is attractive because of her strong opinions and her passions. What does Daphne have a passion for? Being successful on the marriage mart, that’s it. And that’s not compelling enough for Daphne to carry the show.
Simon—what a beautiful man! Regé-Jean Page has a very magnetic smile and sensual energy and he steals every scene he’s in. He’s not only physically beautiful, but he’s smart, funny and charming. His sad back story gives him hidden depths and his race and trauma diminish that sense of arrogance, entitlement or privilege that other men of his class have. I loved his male friendships with Will and Anthony, his respect for Lady Danbury and his budding friendship with Daphne. He comes across as genuine and warm and caring. I agree about his past—it didn’t justify his behavior and he didn’t seem to be that traumatized by it to me.
Our discussion continues with Part IV, where we address Daphne and Simon’s marriage (including that scene) as well as about Anthony.
I would have to go back and re-watch to be sure, but it seemed that Daphne’s complete lack of interest in Simon–close to disdain really–was part of her appeal to him. She was uncomplicated for that reason, also intelligent and constitutionally incapable of simpering or fawning over him or any man. He *liked* her, I think, which seemed to be a novel experience for him.
Except–and I’m not sure how to explain this–Simon’s jealousy of any other suitor felt like more of a reason for him to pursue her than any deep passion he may have had for her specifically. There’s a sentence in there somewhere. That’s what we were shown, at least that’s what I remember thinking about his behavior at the balls. Definitely time for a re-watch.
Daphne seemed hot/cold to everyone, even her beloved family. One minute caring and affectionate, another berating Emily or others for something. There was an inflexibility about her at times that brought me up short.
@Darlynne: I should add, though, that Daphne was definitely on the marriage block and carried her responsibility to the family more heavily than Anthony or any of the others. That would add determination and steel to one’s spine, I imagine.
@Darlynne: That’s a good point about how Daphne’s disinterest in pursuing Simon as a “catch” was part of Simon’s initial attraction to her. I bought his attraction to her more than Layla did, but I agree his jealousy seemed like more of a driver than any innate quality that Daphne possessed. I agree she had a spine of steel and that may have been part of the attraction but I wish we’d seen more admiration for Daphne on his part.
Re Daphne’s hot and cold behavior toward her others, I think that in part it was meant to convey the pressure she was under as a debutante who must marry well, and later as a young bride whose marriage was somewhat rocky. I bought that somewhat but I also agree that (by the time the show ended, at least) it seemed like part of her personality as well, and not an attractive one.
Layla just sent me a link to this article about what Bridgerton gets right and wrong about the Regency period.
@Janine: Thanks, I enjoyed that. So Charlotte’s attire was correct for 1800s royalty. Thank goodness everyone else was dressed more fashionably.
Am I the only one who is still surprised that the producers kept in the rape scene? I quit reading the book years ago at that point because there is nothing heroic about Daphne’s sexual assault of Simon. The 2020/2021 version of consent and what’s romantic is very different than it was in 2000, but still. For such a “modern” interpretation of the book in the show, I still have no idea why this remained in. Also, really disappointed that so many people thought Daphne’s conduct was acceptable (but I have to say, I think she’s a completely unremarkable/unlikeable heroine, both in the book and on the show).
@Courtney: We talk about the rape scene in tomorrow’s post but that aspect (why the writer chose to do it) didn’t come up. But while I researched the show I stumbled on an interview with showrunner Chris Van Duden where he states that they deliberated a lot about whether to leave it in or take it out but in the end they included it because they felt it was a necessary part of Daphne’s journey. To which I say: Pfft. Had her journey included any growth—such as realizing how wrong what she did was and feeling genuine remorse—it might have worked better for me. We talk about that in tomorrow’s post.
Thanks, Janine. There was no growth at all. I guess I find it very bothersome that the romance community still celebrates this or, at least accepts it. I’m thrilled the show has highlighted the genre (historical romance remains one of my favorites), but if the roles were reversed, would everyone think Simon’s conduct was acceptable? I also understand that romance authors are reluctant to call this out. I look forward to the discussion tomorrow.
@COURTNEY: Yeah, definitely read tomorrow’s post, then. I think you’ll like it.
Wanted to love the show, because I cut my romantic eye teeth on Heyer, because I loved the dresses, because I loved the twist of the diverse cast and bc of Mr.Page but I did Not.. partly because of lack of conviction that daphne and Simone fit, partly because it really bought home how kind of yucky (to my 2021 sensibilities) the season was…old men leering at basically innocent girls…and really how callous Anthony was to his mistress was very off- putting. In fact in the bit I watched appearances seemed paramount and love of all sorts seemed to be in short supply…not romantic to me… in fact it may have put me off regencies altogether. That said maybe it got better after I gave up and started to watch all creatures great and small instead?
@Sue: Hmm I don’t know if it got better but it got more interesting.
I actually liked how the show brought home the underbelly of the season–a marriage mart where young women gave themselves to the highest bidder. I appreciated how it underscored the season’s mercenary aspects because it’s not an angle you generally see in historical romances and I think it’s better to interrogate it than to swallow only the romantic side of it whole.
Anthony comes up in tomorrow’s post. He is actually less callous to Sienna in the later episodes but IMO he’s never likable.
One of my favourite scenes is when Daphne snorts while laughing about the princes dress comments. That’s when I saw what Simon saw in her. She makes laugh and he doesn’t lead a life that contains a lot of laughter. And I also think her large family held a large appeal. He never had anything like that in Jim’s life.
@KristieJ: That’s an excellent point about Daphne’s large family. I wish that had been played up a bit more because it shades very nicely his main conflict between his vow to his father and giving Daphne the children that she wants. II wish that had been emphasized a bit more because it would have delineated more clearly that some part of Simon wanted children, he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. There was a little of that in there but I think maybe at tiny bit more would have been good.
I agree with you about the laugher, too, but it seemed to me that he was bringing the joy to their courtship more than Daphne.
This was another interesting choice by the show, as in the books Daphne isn’t the most popular or even a “flawless diamond.” She’s in her second (or third?) season in the books. I’m not sure why they moved away from that – possibly to introduce the brief love triangle with the prince?
I love your comment about Daphne’s disdain–so true! Although I think Kiera Knightly does it better in her version of Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen and watching the adaptations, its always clear that part of what attracts Darcy to Elizabeth is her independence and her strong sense of self–and yes her disdain for him. So its unbelievably romantic in the end when the veils are removed and she is aware of her prejudice towards him–and we see his pride as actually hiding a soft and loving heart. In this Bridgerton version of this kind of narrative, I found Daphne’s disdain to be more of a ploy, less that she’s strong and independent like Elizabeth in Austen. As you say, she is kind of mercurial and hot and cold to everyone. This was not appealing to me at all!! And quite honestly, I never felt that Simon was that “in love” with her. Or she with him. They had great sex–ok wonderful! and they came to like each other. But the show should have spent more time on thier relationship growing non-sexually then some of the other stuff they spent time on.
@Sydneysider: hmmmm such an interesting observation!!! I didnt even think of this because its been so long since I read the books—like more than 10 years!! I guess because it raises the stakes? It also amps up that aspect of her character, her determination at all costs to do well on the marriage market for her family. Its a strong part of her “feminism” and the show’s desire to critique the marriage mart. I think?
@KristieJ: yes this is a great scene!!! I totally love it and you know whats funny? I actually could see her happy with the prince–of course Simon is hotter and sexier but again, for me, I’m not sure how amazingly in love they were. They worked together as a couple–but she could have also easily been with the Prince and been happy I think.
check out this article for a good perspective on the Prince/Daphne relationship.
@Sue: totally agree about Anthony and Sienna!! I did find the show romantic, but I also found the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca romantic:) Its not as romantic as say, North and South or BBC Pride and Prejudice.
@Courtney: a thoery I read somehwere that made sense was that Daphne’s unremarkablness has to do with her being an ‘everywoman’ that a viewer can relate to. I’m not so sure about that–she wasn’t relatable to me at all! I found her to be like I said in my review, a less charismatic and more boring Regina from Mean Girls type of character. Or like Reese Witherspoon in Election but not as smart or ambitious or complex. She wants to succeed and is the popular “It” girl but its through hard work and wealth, not anything intrinstic.
I flip-flopped so many times on my opinion of Daphne. Everything you wrote here, Janine, really resonates with me. I kept feeling irritated when Daphne would clearly and concisely explain why her situation was unfair–and as a reader and a writer, I’m super invested clear and concise explanations of why her situation was unfair! So I was really boggled by my own antipathy.
I ended up concluding a few things. One: Daphne was never as vocal about her unfair *advantages*, of which she had many. I mean she’s wealthy AND aristocratic AND beautiful AND has a loving supportive family AND good health AND if I wanted I could probably make a longer list but geez louise that’s a lot of powerful advantages for one person to have. And yet she’s so laser-focused on the ones she doesn’t have that it just felt greedy. (which is it’s own kind of drama: what you’ve got all that and you still want equality? Pshaw.)
The other one, and the one that interested me more, is that ignorance is unappealing. Like many ignorant people, Daphne often thought she understood a lot more than she actually did, and barreled into situations and opinions with the confidence of the ill-informed. There was some discussion here about what distinguished Daphne as a character & I think her central conflict was just that: her ignorance, which manifested as vulnerability, erratic and short-sighted choices, frustration, and ultimately in violence.
It’s so easy to see, when you look at Daphne, why an early feminist who’s squinting at the truth (her situation is actually unfair and wrong) would be dismissed out of hand. Because she’s ignorant and it’s really unappealing.
@Layla: TBH one of my biggest problems with the show is that I was rooting for the Prince. I liked Simon more as a person but he was REALLY clear about where he stood, and the Prince met all of Daphne’s requirements & seemed like a nice guy to boot.
@Erin Satie: That’s a good point about Daphne’s appreciation for most of her advantages. I did feel she valued her mother’s love. Presumably she also loved her big family since that was supposed to be why she wanted kids, but I think the show would have benefitted from showing us more of that.
Her other advantages—yeah. I mean the queen called her “a diamond of the first water.” She didn’t take it for granted initially but she did have the expectation of doing well on the marriage mart. She thought she’d succeed. That gets upended later but that initial expectation is a bit spoiled, isn’t it?
Many girls were not in such a high position. We didn’t see her look down at them but the show looked down at them—Penelope’s two sisters and the woman who spied Daphne in the garden with Simon and threatened to create a scandal. None of them did well at securing a match and it felt like the show was punishing them for not being more like Daphne.
I agree on the prince, BTW. While I liked that moment of bonding between Simon and Daphne having a laugh at the prince’s expense, it also made me a touch uncomfortable on his behalf, and the more we learned of his character the better I liked him and the less I liked that joke.
@Erin Satie: This is interesting–where did you see examples of her ignorance, outside of the glaringly obvious one about sex? I like how you describe her lack of acknowledgement of her advantages. Thats part of what irritated me most about her–she has a lot and she is entitled about it and not quite so grateful. Also wierdly, shes actually not that much of a family person! I mean we dont see her doing much with her family, or being a warm and loving ‘elder sister’ type.
Also I dont think of her as a feminist, early or nascent or emergent or not. I think thats part of the dissonance is that the modern writers of the show want us to place her in that context–to see her choices as partly coming from the restrictions of choice in a deeply unequal world–but its not a terribly strong or moving type of ‘feminism’ when she doesnt display any awareness of it beyond marriage. I actually argued in my post that thats ok—in some ways, I like that she is not an outright proto-feminist like Eloise. But somehow it all boils down to–I really didnt like her much. Her baby bangs, her limited expressions, her lack of charisma–and i’m sorry to say maybe that has something to do with the actress? or maybe its her role? I’m not sure. Do you think the writers set her up to be so unlikeable? Or antagonistic?
@Janine: agree with everything you said 100 percent!! And I actually loved her relationship with her mom, and wished to see more of it.
I adored Rege-Jean Page as Simon. I’m a hero-centric reader and viewer so that made it even easier.
I didn’t really think about what Simon saw in Daphne. I just imported what I knew from the book I guess. LOL